“The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”
As a college student on the brink of graduation, I feel a very tangible connection to many of Marina Keegan’s words throughout The Opposite of Loneliness, a collection of her fiction and nonfiction stories, but to these ones in particular.
After seven years of chipping away at my degree, college is soon to no longer be a responsibility in my life. A fact that is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. While I can’t wait for this giant, personality-shifting chapter of my life to come to an end, the real world seems just as daunting at times. But I’m determined not to lose my sense of possibility, a sentiment Keegan expressed beautifully.
The Opposite of Loneliness begins with the essay Keegan wrote for the graduation issue of the Yale Daily News with the same title. As Keegan expressed in her essay, the end of college doesn’t have to mean the end of new beginnings. Keegan’s opposite of loneliness is the state of connectedness she encountered while at school. A togetherness that comes from being surrounded by others who love and care about you, and who are also just trying to survive the semester.
The collection contains nine of Keegan’s fiction stories and nine nonfiction pieces, and it’s impossible to pick which genre is more enjoyable. It’s an achievement to be proficient in both fiction and nonfiction writing, one that Keegan can rightfully claim. She writes about life, new love, old love, passion, and death, all while retaining a thread of humor and hopeful possibility.
As eloquent as Keegan’s many references to mortality are, they are some of the hardest parts to read.
Just five days after Keegan graduated magna cum laude from Yale, she died in a car accident. She and her boyfriend were driving to Cape Cod to celebrate her father’s fifty-fifth birthday with her family when her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel.
One of Keegan’s Yale professors, Anne Fadiman, wrote the introduction for The Opposite of Loneliness. In it she says that Keegan wouldn’t have wanted to be remembered because she was dead. She would want to be remembered because she was good. So that is how I intend to think of Marina Keegan, not as a fellow young woman and writer whose life tragically ended too soon, but as an amazing example of someone who excelled in the art of storytelling.
“I’m so jealous. Laughable jealousies, jealousies of everyone who might get a chance to speak from the dead. I’ve zoomed out my timeline to include the apocalypse, and, religionless, I worship the potential for my own tangible trace. How presumptuous! To assume specialness in the first place.”
This comes from one of Keegan’s nonfiction pieces and is one of the many discussions of mortality that makes me just ache at the tragic irony of life. The first time I read those words I reacted with sadness, because I was acutely aware that I was reading them after her death; but also with joy knowing she completely succeeded in what she wished to do before she died. What really any of us wish to do before death. Leave a tangible trace of our own on the world.
Keegan was special, and her writing is special, and she wasn’t presumptuous at all in assuming so.